User Research: Usability Testing of Homepage Navigation


We needed to gain a better understanding of how students were navigating the University’s homepage to improve the information architecture going into a major redesign of the site.

How do current students navigate to complete top tasks?

  • Top Navigation Bar
  • Persona Navigation Bar
  • Search – Internal & External
  • A-Z (Footer)
  • Other

Target Users:

Current university students are one of the primary audiences of the University of Texas at Dallas’ webpage, but we had never done any usability studies to understand how they were navigating the site and if they were able to accomplish common tasks on the site. We also didn’t really have any research on how students were navigating the site. Were they going to the task-based menu, the persona-based menu or simply using search? I partnered with a professor in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication to conduct usability research on 111 undergraduate students in an introductory classes in the spring semester of 2019. 


I was the primary researcher, setting up the usability tasks and the measurement tools. I looked for trends and strategic takeaways to guide our redesign and produced a presentation that was delivered to my team and upper management using Google Slides.

Scope and constraints:

Ideally, I would have loved to use an online tool such as Optimal Workshop to do some tree testing or card-sorting testing, but they only way I could gain access to the students in the classes was to come to them in person and ask them to measure how easily they were able to accomplish each task, using a scale from 1 to 5. I also had to rely on them to accurately record the path they took to accomplish each task and if they were successful in accomplishing the task. 


Students used their own devices. I asked them to record the device and browsers they were using. 

Users were asked to complete tasks, record the path they took and if they were successful. They were then asked to rate the ease of completing the task on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being easy and five being difficult. The responses for each student were inputted into an Excel file.

Usability scores were averaged for the various paths to measure which ones had best scores. In some cases, bad scores for search could reflect that users went there as a last resort. But in general, search was rated fairly high for effectively getting the tasks done. Here’s the percentage of students who were able to complete each task:

  • Task 1: Find the last day to drop a class: 89%
  • Task 2: Find the library hours: 90%
  • Task 3: Show a friend how to apply to UTD: 100% 
  • Task 4: Find the cost of tuition: 85%
  • Task 5: Find how to apply for financial aid: 94%
  • Task 6: Find date/time of upcoming soccer game 91%

Lessons and outcomes:

  • Overall, the Top Nav Menu was where most users consistently went to complete tasks, particularly on mobile.
  • Search — Internal and Google — was popular with many students and was the route taken if they couldn’t determine where else to look. 
  • Some users went to the Persona-Based Menu, with mixed results. Most went to the Students page, but some tried to carry out tasks using Faculty/Staff and Alumni/Friends and that didn’t always work out. 
  • A significant number of desktop users, 10-15%, used the A-Z menu at the bottom of the homepage and typically awarded high usability scores for this path.

Key Deliverables:

Google Slides Presentation

New homepage comps for mobile